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As published here
Aine Breen at Showcase
If you’re a maker with ambitions to start selling it can seem easy to start an online business. You can get a website up and running within days. But you soon find that gathering sales is tough when your brand is unknown and competition is fierce.
You have to work on SEO, online ads and social media to drive traffic to your site. Waiting for the results can be disheartening. So meeting customers face-to-face is a welcome respite, and of real benefit to your business.
It will build your sales and your confidence. It will help you improve your products and build a customer base. But it also requires a sacrifice in time and money.
As the owner of a jewellery business, in the past 18 months I’ve attended around 20 craft fairs, markets and pop-ups. From my home in County Wexford, I’ve travelled across Ireland and to England. I’ve woken at 4am to take the red eye from Ireland to London and given up weekends during the busy Christmas period.
And I’ve invested a significant amount of money – a stall can range from £50 for a half-day local event to around £1,500 for a five-day Christmas fair.
But it’s all been worthwhile. Making the effort to offer customer service the old fashioned way can result in huge rewards. Here are a few I’ve discovered and how to make the most of them: 
People love to meet makers
At a fair, market or pop-up, talk to as many people as you can. They want to hear the story behind the product and the brand. I have a Chinese collection. When someone visits my stall I explain how the collection was inspired by my time living in China and the Chinese calligraphy course I took in Beijing.
Customers seem to enjoy my story and it’s a great way to build rapport. At a Christmas fair I spoke to a man shopping for a necklace for his daughter who was studying Chinese. When he gave me his email address I recognised that he worked for a well-known accountancy firm. A look of surprise spread across his face when I told him my previous job – I am also a chartered accountant. He’s since bought more pieces from me online. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be open about your startup journey.
Market research
Signing up for a craft fair, market or pop-up shop gives you an invaluable opportunity for market research. You might think your wares are beautiful and unique, but that doesn’t guarantee people will buy them.
In person you can see which of your products draw most attention. You can also learn about customers wants. Listen carefully to their feedback and see how you can improve.
When I first started out, customers asked for different lengths of chain and for Celtic symbols instead of Chinese Characters. I took this on board and invested in different chain lengths and designed a Celtic range. This face-to-face feedback is invaluable – it’s unlikely online shoppers will take the time to email you with such requests.
You can also get a better idea of how to price products. If shoppers are shocked at the price, you may need to reduce them. Or, if you think the price is fair, you might need to better communicate why. Explain that you use high quality materials and that you invest hours of craftsmanship in a piece, unlike much mass produced high street fashion. On the other hand, if people say “wow that’s so cheap” you might consider charging more.
Fairs also help you gauge the typical age and gender of your customer. I assumed my typical customer would be like me – a thirty-something woman. But at fairs it’s mostly been men and women over 40 buying gifts for teenage daughters or teenage girls shopping for themselves. Customer profiling is great for your future marketing and invaluable if you want to do some targeted advertising online.
Marketing and PR
Whether you’ve just started selling or are an established brand, a fair, market or pop-up should be viewed as a promotional opportunity. Even if someone doesn’t buy today, if they like your product and enjoy chatting to you, they are more likely to remember your brand.
The chance to touch and try on a product before buying it is still important to many. This means fairs are especially useful if you are not selling through retailers yet. I give visitors a card about my business. My tip is to use postcards with images of your work rather than standard business cards – if it’s a nice image, they will keep it.
My first piece of PR was as a result of meeting a journalist at a fair. She came by my stand and loved my story. A few days later she arranged an interview and I was featured in a national newspaper. 
Lastly, if you want to make the fair really count run a competition to win one of your products. It will draw interest from passersby and gives you a chance to collect emails addresses. Also, ask customers to follow you on Facebook to help you grow an online following.
Meeting people that are genuinely interested in what you sell will give you confidence in those darker days when sales may be slow online. 


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